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Fear of Falling

Tom of Finland (excerpt)

A strange attitude problem has taken me over lately regarding my novel in progress. I don’t understand my thoughts, but they’ve persisted for several days now, so I’ll get them out here to see if I can make any sense of them.

After a writing hiatus that lasted seven months since last June, and a marvelous healing experience right around Christmastime, I am composing and posting chapters again on a blog dedicated to that purpose. I’ve written five chapters in the past three weeks. Yippee!

Except I’m also kind of pissed, because no one’s noticed, left a comment, written me an e-mail. How dare these people not give me some encouragement!

(Mind you, the only people this applies to are 3-4 personal friends, not the general public. Any blog that goes dark for three days is given up for dead, so I certainly don’t blame a casual visitor for not stumbling through the door.)

But where are my friends, I wonder? The ones I have in mind all subscribe to the blog, so they know about my recent activity.

And it’s not like I expect them all to pat me on the back for the greatest writing since Tolstoy, or even Keith Olbermann; I’d be as happy for feedback as for praise.

But not to notice, ooh, that’s rough. If you really want to hurt someone, be indifferent to them.

Meanwhile this is what keeps me from whining. The rational part of my brain recognizes that this emotion I’m having, that wants to blame my friends, is really an indirect expression of something else in me. It’s not about my friends at all, but some unknown discomfort I’m having with me.

Forget what Peter might say; do *I* not like what I’ve written lately? Is that why I’m needing reassurance and attention?

Actually I do rather like these five recent chapters, at least insofar as the plot is concerned. I feel like I’m focusing fairly well. The action is moving along for once. But I’ve rather lost control of where it’s going, and that can be scary. The other day a plot device started writing itself, while I sat here taking dictation.

Any writer will tell you that a story that starts writing itself might turn out to be worth reading; I’ve had that experience myself, especially with the “University” series. It can be a joyful thing when the characters start telling the writer what they’re up to. All the writer can do is grab his hat and take off behind them.

But it’s been years since that happened to me, and now I’m scared. It all started with a two-by-four, a block of wood; now it’s shown up three more times, including this afternoon.

I am thankful, with this novel, for anything that helps me pick up the pace. The story is “about” the making of a Gay Christian marriage, which is a process, not a plot. A couple gets together and has experiences; okay, fine, but what actually happens, and how does that help them be together (or not)?

The characters, a cop and a reporter, are favorites of mine, and I am so interested in seeing them learn to be together that this book has always threatened to turn into the Blob That Ate L.A., an amorphous monster that consumes everything in its meandering path. When it comes to suburban sprawl, I’ve got whole neighborhoods laid out. If this were a toy train set there’d be tracks and trestles, barns and bridges in every room in my house. But where is this train going?

Well, the cop’s going to solve a murder case, and he’s actually getting there faster than I thought he would. This time his buddy, who was so prominent in their debut novel, is forced to take a back seat. He gets the action started, but ends up as a stay-at-home boyfriend most of the time. He thinks he doesn’t like that, but it turns out he does; as an author I have no problem with the two of them taking turns and being versatile. Another thing I like is that by The End, they both end up being people of substance; Ward and June Cleaver they’re not.

For the book to be at all successful, the crime has to be solved as far as possible, and the reader has to believe that these two men belong together, that they have a reasonable chance of making a longterm relationship—including a spiritual basis that grounds them, that they can build on.

“The Centurion’s Boy” is a Josh Thomas book because I can write uniquely on this theme. Getting the book finished, polished and produced is a job God calls me to, part of my vocation.

So I can’t be spending my time getting drunk every night, because then I don’t write—the book sprawls, it eats L.A., the train doesn’t go anywhere. It goes everywhere but nowhere in particular. The temporal, temporary gift of my sobriety means I’m spending a lot of time, in the time I have left, working on this vocation. I don’t want to have to face God and say I didn’t get it done.

In the meantime, five new chapters in three weeks, and I’m scared of it, in the same way I suppose that sobriety is scary, changing old habits is. I feel like a fledgling again. I can fly a little but it sure feels good going back to the nest of my old thoughts.

Peter, Leonardo and Bob are not responsible for what I’m going through; I guess I just need somebody to blame for my panic.

I’m really enjoying being sober, by the way; flying is fun. I don’t obsess about alcohol; I know I’ve done the forgiving I needed to do, to let go of my self-destructive impulse as a mental concentration camp survivor. Alcohol seems really boring these days, and I’ve gotten into cooking (and eating) again. Tomorrow I’m going to a symphony concert with my friends.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years about spirituality, Gay and otherwise, is that we really have to pay attention to where we are now. It’s not enough to be “on a path” if we don’t watch our own steps every day. Our path, which the earliest ones called The Way, may take us through some rough terrain; it will surely be scary at least as often as it’s joyful and easy. We may want to frolic in the meadow all the time, but even that can get tiresome whether we’re guzzling vodka or not. Sooner rather than later it’s time to hit the rocks and start climbing again. And of course it helps not to be alone, but all hikers get separated every now and then before meeting up again. Robert, Lenny and Peter are probably waiting for me just around the bend, and no, they’re not responsible for my little detour. I took that on my own.

I feel good about what I’ve written, even if they don’t say much. I’m not always there for them when they get scared either.

Meanwhile it’s important to me to finish up this book. First draft or twentieth, I want, when the time comes, to hand the Admissions Office a bound volume and say, “This was my vision of what it can be like when guys love each other in Jesus’ name.”

I know this much, my Admissions Committee will not be staffed by literary critics, but by angels who ask, “Is it authentic? Is it real? Is it Joshua? Is it faithful? Could it help someone?”—not “did it,” but “could it.” And “Is it the best he could do at that time?”

As long as you don’t get your foot stuck, like I did for the past seven months, climbing rocks can be fun, even when you’re all by yourself. What if my friends aren’t ahead of me but behind me, watching where I’m going, making their own decisions about the best way forward, and Ready to Catch Me Should I Fall?++

I've never read Neil Bartlett's novel, but I've never forgotten that wonderful title.

4 Responses

  1. Did I really say that?

    I do read a lot, but seldom comment on posts of authors. Sometimes I mail them when I enjoyed a certain book. In the Centurion’s Boy I have the feeling you’re trying to blend two books in one. First the tale between Kent and Jamie and their relationship and second the crime story.

    You once told me not to interfere when you’re writing, I try to keep my distance, but it’s sometimes hard. We talked about the characters, what they we’re up to and how they would go on in life, but nothing definitive.

    When we first met in 2005 you took me to several places mentioned in “Murder at Willow Slough”. Like the slough itself and along the banks of the Kankakee River. In 2009 we went to other places, along Sugar Creek, “Town of Friends” and looking at Italianate buildings in C’ville.

    Indeed I didn’t comment on the latest five chapters, I’m just glad you’re back to writing and get your life back on track. I wish I was just living around the corner, just to keep an eye on you, having someone to talk to when the days get drab and monotone. But that isn’t so, we’re 4000 miles apart.

    We did mail to each other last week, got you several logo’s for Hickory Grove, which you used.

    And I have a feeling where the story leads to, but I’m not giving it away here in the comments section. Others have to read it from chapter 1 till the end, whenever that might be.


  2. Peter, thanks. Your observation that “Centurion’s Boy” is really two books in one is perceptive – though I’m also not sure I agree with it. I have to think some more.

    If I don’t agree with it here’s why; the same could be said about “Willow Slough,” which is A) a murder story and B) a relationship book.

    “Andy’s Big Idea” is A) a comic political story and B) a relationship book.

    Therefore perhaps I always write relationship books. I’m not interested in writing murder mysteries as such, or any other genre form (including romances). I want my books to be “about” something in addition to what’s on the surface.

    Most of “ABI” consists of Andy and Tyler traveling the country and the world selling his idea of a GLBT university. But the idea grew out of married, closeted Andy’s attraction for the openly-Gay schoolteacher Ty, and the businessman’s building on that germ of an idea in a glorious and grandiose way for the benefit of students.

    I know you know this but it helps me to spell it out here.

    I think of the Dave Brandstetter mystery series by Joseph Hansen, my favorite Gay author. The Brandstetter books are very good examples of genre fiction, with a little bit of insight into Dave’s relationship at home. That’s great, but I’m not interested in following Hansen’s model; I couldn’t do it as well as he did and I don’t have the same attitude toward murder that he did (or the public does, apparently). I don’t find murder entertaining. And my favorite Hansen books are his few but gorgeous novels about a single lonely guy who sort of finds love and sort of doesn’t. (“A Smile in His Lifetime,” “Job’s Year.”)

    I can’t think of anything duller than a political novel like “ABI” without Tyler Brown.

    And so it is with “Centurion’s Boy.” No matter how much Gay men fantasize about being with a big, handsome, dominant, butch cop, making a relationship with one can prove rather difficult even in the best of circumstances. Kent’s gone all the time; Jamie’s stuck at home. One’s free of family; the other’s enmeshed with family. As the women’s magazine once regularly blared, “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

    The bigger question here is how two men work out their differences in power. We know how heterosexual couples have traditionally done that, but longterm male relationships are a new and different world, at least to the public.

    I also explore the impact of religion. That wouldn’t make it into most Gay books but it’s prominent in mine. A priest-friend objected to the supernatural scene, felt it didn’t belong; but I put it there for a reason and later contrasted it with a visit to Kessler Chapel.

    So: It’s a work in progress. Thirty-five chapters are done so far. You may be surer than I am about where all this ends – though you’re an astute reader and you know the author pretty well.

    As I finish it I see my job as balancing the action plot and the relationship process. Whether I’ll succeed at that remains to be seen. I do know I want a book I’m proud of, one that isn’t just a romance or a detective story. Kent and Jamie are more than just types. We’ll have to see where all this goes.

    Meanwhile I’m writing again at last.



  3. In case you, other [would be] commenters, think “Why didn’t he answer to Josh’s comment?” I can tell you I did, but… on a personal level, not all is for publication.

  4. I MISSED THIS POST (or I would have mentioned it to you yesterday)…I commented at the manuscript but I do see something that is fascinating (probably because you brought it up)–with editing I see this as a play or even musical (Imagine the lyrics which you seem capable of writing with all the quick liners)–a keen eye for a wide audience would help make it $$$ in the eyes of some of the beholders (marketing is never far back in my brain)–it´s quick, it´s passionate, it´s reasonable and I think even a little downsizing might happen for a cleaner script if you went in the direction of having it produced–you need a music guy who could feel the words–who knows you may come up with the latest hotest (and most contemporary) love song since–well, since any of the ones that fill your heart, and soul (and I can tell they do from your writing). There is something going on here far past a ¨Gay¨ Novel–I see the seams are stretching–something wants to get out and offer a NEW VIEW of who people like WE are–it´s gasping for fresh air–I can feel it as I read it.

    Go man, go! Pull your hair out and scream with pleasure, there is much brewing beneath the surface of everyday life (especially for people like us)…follow it.

    Love to you and Lukenstein,


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